Tag: Museums

Museums and the Lost Art of ‘Slow Looking’

Museums and the Lost Art of ‘Slow Looking’ Photo by sergeymk via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by sergeymk via Flickr (Creative Commons)

In the New York Times this week, Michael Kimmelman watched tourists power-walking through the Louvre, and lamented the lost days of “slow looking” at museums and galleries. I enjoyed the article, and I can certainly relate—my first visit to Notre Dame, in Paris, was largely spoiled by a businessman who dashed up and down the aisles holding a camcorder over his head while shouting into a cellphone—but at the same time, if the faster-moving visitors aren’t actively disrupting the slowpokes, I don’t have much energy to condemn them.

After all, as Kimmelman himself says, there is “no single, correct way to look at any work of art, save for with an open mind and patience.” I think he had it right without the qualifiers.


Famous Underwear Displayed as Fine Art in Belgium

Belgian artist Jan Bucquoy has just opened the “Musee du Slip,” or underpants museum, a destination sure to appeal to those visitors already flocking to the nearby Brussels landmark Manneken-Pis. Bucquoy told Reuters that the framed underwear, donated mostly by Belgian artists, singers and politicians, represents a utopian longing for an equal society:  “If you are scared of someone, just imagine them in their underpants. The hierarchy will fall and you will see that this is a guy like any other. We are all equal, all brothers.” 

If you can’t make it to Belgium to see the aforementioned unmentionables, Bucquoy is planning a fall exhibition in Paris where he hopes to showcase underwear from Nicolas Sarkozy’s wife, Carla Bruni, and perhaps long shots like the Pope or Iranian President Ahmadinejad, articles he’s sure tourists would line up to see.


London’s Trafalgar Square: ‘Completely Uncivilized’

London’s Trafalgar Square: ‘Completely Uncivilized’ Photo by ** Maurice ** via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by ** Maurice ** via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Long live the stereotype of the stuffy British academic. The director of Britain’s National Gallery, Dr. Nicholas Penny, isn’t happy with the state of affairs in London’s venerable public square, which the gallery overlooks—and he isn’t afraid to drop some harsh words on the subject. “Levels of civil behaviour are incredibly low,” he told the Times Online. “As I speak, people are riding the lions and climbing up as far as they can on the reliefs of Nelson’s Column.” Penny did, however, acknowledge that the rollerbladers in the square are “incredibly skillful.”


Finding Frederic Remington (in Upstate New York)

Finding Frederic Remington (in Upstate New York) Author and her grandfather, Sidney Friedfertig (35-plus years ago)
Author and her grandfather, Sidney Friedfertig (35-plus years ago)

The statues always felt out of place. I never really understood why my grandfather, Sidney Friedfertig, loved Frederic Remington’s work so much. While my grandfather was fond of all things Western, Remington’s pieces just struck me as harsh and ugly. I didn’t like them. What were they doing in my grandparents’ Westchester, NY, apartment, alongside my artist grandmother’s brightly colored oil paintings?

Though my grandfather passed away nearly 15 years ago, until recently I still hadn’t taken a shine to Remington. It was odd because, really, I thought he would have grown on me for sentimental reasons.

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See This Now: ‘Give Peace a Chance’

See This Now: ‘Give Peace a Chance’ Photo by Eva Holland
Photo by Eva Holland

As we’ve noted, this spring marked the 40th anniversary of John and Yoko’s iconic “bed-ins” for peace, first at the Amsterdam Hilton and later (and more famously) at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel. The commemorations in those two cities have passed, but a powerful exhibit about the Montreal bed-in has just opened at the Museum at Bethel Woods (aka the Woodstock museum), and it will remain open through the summer.

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Battle Over the Elgin Marbles Rages On

Battle Over the Elgin Marbles Rages On Photo by roblisameehan via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by roblisameehan via Flickr (Creative Commons)

We blogged about one writer’s sneak peek at the New Acropolis Museum last summer, and now opening day has finally arrived—predictably, not without controversy.

The museum was designed both to pressure Britain for the return of the Elgin Marbles, and to provide a worthy home for them after their (eventual, theoretical) return. With that context in mind, it’s no surprise that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the director of the British Museum—where the marbles are currently held—have all declined invitations to the grand opening on Saturday.

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Finding Hawaii on the Mainland

Aloha Tavern by Nerd’s Eye View

I’m not sure why I’m surprised when, on the mainland in the middle of rural territory, I find a town named “Aloha,” or when a festival in Seattle brings thousands of Hawaiians out to listen to traditional music and see hula. The Hawaiian diaspora is extensive—hey, it reaches all the way to the White House these days.

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Samurais and Maharajas: It’s an Asian Art Summer

I’m fortunate to live in a city that’s home to one of the best Asian art museums in the world—the Smithsonian’s Freer-Sackler Gallery—but I’m not averse to traveling to see a really great museum or exhibit elsewhere. In fact, on a trip to Dublin last fall, I spent an entire afternoon immersed in the wonderful Chester Beatty Library, gazing at Persian paintings and Islamic manuscripts. I know, I know—I was supposed to be out drinking Guinness, but I couldn’t help myself.

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St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

Visitors to the Hermitage Museum look at portraits of generals from Russia's 1812 campaign against Napoleon's army

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Museums on Film: Three Memorable Moments

Museums on Film: Three Memorable Moments Photo by brainware3000 via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by brainware3000 via Flickr (Creative Commons)

With Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian set to open this weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about museums and the movies. The first Night at the Museum, released in 2006 and set at a fictionalized version of the American Museum of Natural History, raked in money at the box office and is credited with increasing attendance at the real-life Upper West Side museum by as much as 20 percent. According to USA Today, the Smithsonian is hoping to see similar benefits from its featured role in the sequel.

The two Ben Stiller vehicles may be remarkable for the amount of traffic they’re driving to museums, but they’re not unusual in their choice of setting. Museums and galleries have played prominent roles in any number of films and television shows over the years. Here, with apologies for my clear bias towards New York City and romance, are three of my favorite museum movie moments.

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Ka’iulani:  the Activist Princess

Photo by clliff1066 via Flickr (Creative Commons).

The Hawaiian Hall at the Bishop Museum is still closed for renovations (we got a sneak peak on our visit—it’s going to be stunning when it opens in August) so there is only a limited amount of Hawaiian artifacts currently on view. The Kāhili Room at the museum is open, though—it’s in a different building—and it displays portraits of the Hawaiian monarchy and their feathered standards. These torch-like staffs were carried in front of royalty to visually announce their arrival.

Two of the portraits really stuck with me: the photo of Princess Ruth, a frowning, broad woman contained in severe Victorian dress, and the portrait of Princess Ka’iulani, also in Victorian attire but looking less awkward. Princess Ka’iulani cemented her place in the hearts of Native Hawaiians by traveling to the mainland to plead with Congress and two US Presidents for the restoration of the Hawaiian monarchy.

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A Twitter Road Trip Twitique: What Worked, What Didn’t

A Twitter Road Trip Twitique: What Worked, What Didn’t Photo by Sophia Dembling
Photo by Sophia Dembling

My husband Tom and I recently drove a loop south from Albuquerque. (Here’s an annotated map of our route, in case you want to follow in our tire tracks.) This was the first time I’ve Twittered from the road. Interestingly, the great to-Twitter-or-not-to-Twitter debate started up while I was Twittering my trip and triggered a little metacognition about the process. Is it the right thing to do, and what makes a good travel Tweet?

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Trip Planning: Museums on Twitter

Trip Planning: Museums on Twitter Photo by biskuit via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by biskuit via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The experiment: ignore various, er, discussions over whether Twitter is good, distracting, or evil and find other ways to use it to enhance future travel experiences and planning. Since I tend to like museums big, small, and flat-out odd, I figured I would see what some U.S. museums are doing with it.

I’ll admit, I didn’t use the most scientific of methods. I searched Twitter for the term “museum” and, click by click by click, signed up for the first couple dozen on the list.

The information started to drip, drab, and, in some cases, flow in. Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum, famous for its jars of medical oddities, was (and I love this!) offering free health screenings (@MutterMuseum); Northport, Alabama’s Kentuck Museum (@KentuckMuseum) wanted you to put its April 24 poetry festival on your calendar; and Baltimore’s Walters Museum (@walters_museum) offered up a behind-the-scenes photo of an intern working on a Roman sarcophagus and an invitation to its college night with “mash-up DJ artists, tours, & more!”

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Manga Madness

For all you manga fans out there, here’s a round-up of breaking news from both coasts. A San Francisco-based publisher recently released seven translated volumes of the classic Oishinbo series, which follows the adventures of a young food journalist as he searches for the “ultimate menu.” (Tintin meets sashimi?) The New York-based Japan Society is running an exhibit called “Krazy! The Delirious World of Anime + Manga + Video Games” through June 14. And in Washington, D.C., the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is showing “The Tale of Shuten Doji,” an exhibit of scrolls and screens depicting the popular Japanese folk tale as action thriller—an Edo period art form considered a forerunner to manga

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Chinese Tourists Deluge Taiwan

It got off to a slow start, but a long-awaited travel agreement between China and Taiwan, forged last summer, has finally yielded a huge bump in mainland tourists traveling to the island.

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Five Best Mood-Matching Museums

Five Best Mood-Matching Museums (c) Sam Buxton, courtesy Kinetica

What kind of art do you feel like today? Hayden Foreman-Smith knows where to go to match any mood.

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Today Art Museum, Beijing, China

Today Art Museum, Beijing, China REUTERS/David Gray

A man walks through a group of works by Chinese artist Yue Minjun, one of which is carrying women's handbags, on display outside the Today Art Museum in central Beijing.

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‘Rock and Roll Public Library’ Opens in London

The Clash guitarist Mick Jones has opened his expansive rock memorabilia collection to the public for the first time, Reuters reports. The resulting exhibit, dubbed “Rock and Roll Public Library,” is running at London’s Chelsea Space until April 18, and (unsurprisingly) is heavy on relics from the ’70s punk scene. Says Jones: “Ultimately I’d like to have a permanent place to exhibit the whole collection like a museum, like a library where you can come and see the stuff and maybe get a copy or sit there and read it. I also would like to bring artists there because it’s history really.”


Remembering the Concorde

Photo by Rob Verger

Last week marked the 40th anniversary of the first flight of the Concorde. The plane, the only supersonic commercial aircraft, was in service between 1976 and 2003. In 2000, the fiery crash of an Air France Concorde claimed 113 lives.

I saw a Concorde for the fist time this weekend, on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City. Inside the plane, I was struck by the narrow, claustrophobic cabin in the pencil-thin fuselage, the tiny windows and tightly packed rows of seats. Outside, I loved seeing the cool sweep of its delta wings and its stunningly narrow nose.

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Asia’s Disaster Tourism Over the Line?

As we noted yesterday, two new disaster-themed tourist sites are set to open in Asia this month: a museum to commemorate the 2004 tsunami that leveled Indonesia’s Aceh province, and previously off-limits ruins and a museum related to the May 2008 earthquake in China’s Sichuan province. We can debate the pros (local economic development) and cons (unwelcome voyeurism) of disaster tourism, but the descriptions of these two new sites seem to me to cross a line.

Of the tsunami museum, the BBC reports, “Inside, visitors enter through a dark, narrow corridor between two high walls of water—meant to recreate the noise and panic of the tsunami itself.”

At the Sichuan earthquake sites, AFP reports, “Tour groups will be able to go boating on a ‘quake lake’ and visit a museum featuring an ‘earthquake simulation.’”

There’s a fun house aspect to this that I don’t like at all. It’s one thing to establish a museum to educate the public on a disaster’s impact and pay homage to lives lost, but to make the experience entertaining? It’s just plain inappropriate.

When I visited New York’s Ground Zero about four months after 9/11, I found staring into the gaping hole in lower Manhattan unforgettable enough. No simulations needed.